The Massachusetts Building Codes are Cramping My Style!

Hi Everyone,

This is part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this post concerning the Massachusetts building codes, in part, and also the design of my new staircase guardrail and handrail.


If you have already read Part 1, Please click the link below for Part 2.

Part 2 Begins Here


Part 3 Begins Here


If you haven’t read parts 1 and 2, please start at the beginning for greater clarity. That is unless you prefer to be confused. ;]

Well, I really didn’t know what to call this post. It’s about my staircase– again. Well, not the actual stairs, but the railing. We went over that extensively in this post, which would be good to look over if you missed it or want a refresher.


However, before we get into the issues with the railing and building codes, the following is a brief renovation update:


I had a meeting with my contractor the other day. Regular meetings are always a good thing.

He wanted to make sure that I still want to bury the MASSIVE 400-pound pocket doors.

Well, it’s not that I want to. But, the reason for their being no longer exists. They were there to cut down on drafts in the winter and keep the heat IN the dining room.

However,  removing the doors would be an incredible expense. No, I have faucets to pay for! haha


We have decided that changing the wainscoting is not worth the expense.


We discussed that the previous week.

Oh, before I go on… Robin M. commented that it appears work is being done without a permit. No, that would be grounds for some hefty legal problems. There is a permit. But, I understand how she came to this conclusion if she missed the earlier post where I discussed the need for two building permits.


They are as follows:


The short form. This is for everything that is not involving load-bearing building structures. That’s everything but the staircase and the new door downstairs. Both require alterations to the load-bearing wall that runs along the length of the building about five feet away from the center of the building. While this wall is necessary, it is supplemental reinforcement, not the primary support means. That duty goes to the two massive party walls.


They will not say we can’t do the stairs and door. They only want to make sure they are being done safely.


However, because of the building codes, they might push us to make the tread one inch longer than a family of 12 requires simply because their building is established as a “single-family home.”

Oh, don’t get me started.

So, here’s the thing. Today, I am writing this and working on the final design for the neoclassical railing made of wrought iron, a misnomer. What we call wrought iron is actually steel, a combination of iron and carbon for greater strength.


Okay, I sent the architect I’m working with my conceptual images of the upstairs railing several weeks ago.


living room simple x railing railing with divided transom

And, below is what they drew up.

Architect's version of X railing
Okay, as you can see, it’s an X design. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like an ungrateful bitch, which I try not to be.

However, this version is too contemporary and heavy for my 19th-century home.

Before I go on… I know some of you are just tuning in and are wondering why I’m doing this railing. Please read the post from 14 months ago. I tried numerous railings and didn’t like any of them nearly as much as this one.


In addition, some people want me to remove the wainscoting on that wall.


Sorry, it’s not going. We are working it into the design, and it will be lovely.


What about putting up a partial wall instead of the X railing, Laurel, and putting the wainscoting there instead?


Yes, that’s been mentioned.

It’s not a terrible idea, except there isn’t one inch to spare in that direction, and the wall will take up another four inches. The stairwell must be 36″ wide per the building codes.

Still, I always try to keep an open mind, so I tried it out, and quite innocently, too.

It took very little time to deliberate this one; the verdict is in.


living room pony wall AKA jury box stair railing


Laurel, please rise and stand before the jury. Do you have any closing words before the jury reads the verdict?


I’m innocent, I swear. It was self-defense; the mosquitoes were eating me alive!


Okay… I’ll stop.

But, there’s more. I did not realize that my railing needs to be TALLER than my very tall wainscoting. Yes, it must be 42″ high.  42″ will go almost to the top of the carved plinth block. I have it at about 36″.

Alas, this is a problem for my original design because that wasn’t 42″ high, either.


Today, I tried figuring this one out.


But, first, let’s look at these six inspirational images for an X railing.


X staircase railing prototypes


1. I believe this was from Suzanne Kasler’s home at least a decade or two ago. I love this one.

2. Steven Gambrel from at least two decades ago. This is an interesting version, but I prefer Suzanne’s for my home.

3. I don’t know whose staircase this is, but it’s close to Suzanne Kasler’s.

4. Everyone’s favorite staircase and everything here, by Scott Yetman. Please notice in his staircase; we have the closed stringer, which I’m usually not a fan of. However, it looks terrific here.

5. The last two images, I don’t know who they belong to. They are also close to Kasler’s but, again, like Yetman’s, have the closed stringer.

dream house - Parisian Master Bedroom
My original design was also based on this lovely room from my Parisian dream home.


black-windows-wrought iron balcony railing


And, this lovely balcony railing that’s in the original railing post.


Okay, for today, I will show you the upstairs railing design I’m working on.


I realized quite quickly that my original design was not going to work.

stair railing August 2023 #1b black hand rail

It says 1B because #1 had a brass top rail. The kind I want is similar to most of the railings in the prototype.

This seems quite tall. But, since the ceilings are so high, I guess it’ll be okay.

I’m just not crazy about the proportions. So, I played with the design some more.

stair railing August 2023 #2 black hand rail
Oops, this should say #2 at the top. However, this one, I think, is worse. It reminds me of cattle fencing on the Ponderosa.

stair railing August 2023 #3 black hand rail

This one is the same basic design as the architect’s but more sleek.


I think I like this one the best.

BTW – Yes, there will be glass or plexiglass and a handrail!

What do you guys think?

Please remember if you have a suggestion not addressed in this post, it almost definitely was in the original post from April 2022.

This is the best option for me. I want it to be simple and neoclassical.


bad spiral staircase


We need to remember that any of these staircase railings, including what the architects did and the jury box, is better than what’s currently there.

We also need to realize that the original home was never meant to have a staircase in the formal dining room.

And, there’s more.


There is still a possibility that the building department will dig in their heels about the building codes.


In so doing, they will make this ONE little old lady put in a longer tread simply because someone wasn’t thinking clearly when they wrote the nonsensical stair tread code, lumping my completely separate apartment in the same category as a monastery, dormitory, or convent.


My darling contractor told me the other day in his charming Irish lilt.


The guys in the building department don’t care. They’ll stand there and scream at you if you try to reason with them about the unreasonable building codes. Of course, that’s also ridiculous.

To be continued on Monday evening.


Part 2 Begins Here

It’s Monday evening. :]

Hi Everyone,

Oh my! Thank you so much for all of the terrific comments. By the way, very often, when I object to something, I still think about it, and sometimes, I will come around to another viewpoint.

This has been an interesting exercise, but Laurel could’ve saved herself a lot of time if she had bothered to closely examine the bloody architect’s drawings. (formerly known as blueprints).

As a result, this one small portion of the design alone has taken countless hours.


So, before I show you what I did and what I discovered, I’d like to clarify a few things.


One, I realize my drawing looks like there’s a gaping hole. I failed to put in the stairs. We know they’re there, but putting them in proper perspective would be difficult, so I didn’t waste time on that.

What cracked me up is I asked for you to vote for 1, 2, or 3, and at least 3/4 of you said you wanted the jury box.

My idea was to have the staircase guard rail as unobtrusive as possible.


Some of you objected to the black.


I understand your line of thinking. However, the entire thing was never going to be black. But, even if it was, black is GOOD!  Guys, all rooms need black accents. Lack of black is why so many spaces fall flat, but you can’t figure out why. Please do not be afraid of black or introducing a new material.

As Barbara Barry said, and I agree wholeheartedly: “Complexity is What Makes Rooms, Rich.”

Still, I decided to determine if I wanted the jury box or the X boxes for the guard rail.

Please know that this perspective makes the room look wider from fireplace to staircase than it is. The entire room is less than 15′-5″. The fireplace takes up 2.5′. The staircase is about 38″ with the X-rail. That leaves less than ten feet for all the furniture, plus a walking path to the den.


Still, I thought I would give it the “ol’ college try.”


living room pony wall AKA jury box stair railing chandy
First, I did the jury box and have to concede that I don’t hate it.


triple x stair railing pale blue chairs

Then, I tried it with the triple X boxes.


By the way, I DO hate that the guardrail needs to be 42″ high.


That’s absurdly high. I double-checked the code, and the minimum for the residential building code (IRC) is 36″. My building, because it’s five units, goes under the IBC. (International Building Code)

Oh, no. Don’t tell me. Please don’t tell me that because this building has four other self-contained apartments, I have to make my guardrail six inches higher than a detached single-family home.

Fine, I’ll make it the same as the wainscoting, 40″, but not one millimeter higher. My current recycling center guard rail is only 36″ high, and it’s plenty high enough.


Boston Athenaeum - quiet reading room April 2, 2022
Remember our exquisite Athenaeum? See that “guard” rail? And, the massive hole that’s nearly as wide as the humongous window? Plus, do you see all of the other large holes? There is no glass; this rail is also nowhere near 42″ high.

It is okay because it exists.

Boston Athenaeum - quiet reading room
But, it’s a PUBLIC space! Why aren’t they required to put up some glass, at least?!?


Anyway, I’ll shut up about that and try to remember that these are the problems of the highly privileged.


For those who are thinking logically about reasoning with these power-hungry officials. I have been told repeatedly that reasoning is not an option. They don’t care, at least not in Boston.

Okay, let’s move on…


double x stair railing blue-gray chairs

I also did the Ponderosa double X, but you know what? This is the one! It’s perfect and just the feeling I want.


Sorry jury box lovers. It ain’t happenin’. While I don’t hate it, I want to see this.


Today, I began to work on giving some of you the bad news and realized you had never seen the actual staircase railing as beautifully drawn up by the architects.

Below are two drawings that show different aspects of the staircase as it fits into the interior space.

section staircase wall
Above is a section of the upstairs and downstairs. For those who don’t know, a section is like taking a 30-foot buzz saw and slicing the finished architecture about two feet away from the wall, then pushing away the rest of the space to reveal what’s going on behind the walls and how everything fits together.


As you can see, there are no railings except one piece indicating the 42″ height.


Staircase from lower level
Above is what one would see if one could stand back more like ten feet rather than four feet.  But, most of this can be seen from the big closet, further back. Please know that for both upstairs and especially downstairs, the stairwell and staircase are best seen from an obtuse angle.

There’s my new door!




Please ignore the hook on the handrail.


X staircase railing prototypes


I’m not doing that. I think I will eliminate that little horizontal bar a few inches down from the handrail and do the railing, ala Suzanne Kasler.

Incidentally, for those who didn’t understand where the glass is going, see how the railing is shaded. That’s where the glass goes.

Also, I think I read a few. I don’t know what a “closed stringer” is. That’s what Scott Yetman has. (see above) It’s where the stringer meets the bottom of the railing. Thus one can’t see the side of the stairs. However, I do love to see the steps.


Laurel, is that a hidden door for your little fridge?


Yes! Although, I think the opening maybe needs to extend to the other side of those rails to give a bit more space inside.


Okay, it’s all settled; aside from a few tweaks, I love all of this. Let me just grab that elevation of the upstairs stairwell wall that shows the guardrail.


Architect's drawings staircase railing

Above, you can see an elevation of the stair wall with the new French doors and the new guard rail. An elevation also cuts through an interior section but doesn’t reveal what’s behind the walls and ceiling.

Oh, cool, they drew in a shadow of the rail.


No, wait!


Uh, oh…

Oh dear, that isn’t a shadow. Let’s blow up that first section of the guardrail.

x guard rail staircase rail mess
Holy bloody freak! That’s the staircase guardrail and handrail in all its dysfunctional glory, laughing like mad at the fool I am!

I sat here shaking my head and realized that the X guardrail upstairs, while lovely in one respect, would not work.


Okay, please calm down, and some of you need to stop looking so smug. ;]

Thank you.

Could the first X be clear and with a clear handrail? Yes, but coming up the stairs and going down, it will look like we forgot to install the X.

Okay, the jury box is it!

However, it will be the Virginia Slims of jury boxes and elegant.


So, first, I drew it out in plan view, and then I sent it to my architect, who I’m quite positive, at this moment, is plotting my demise.


Just kidding. He’s the nicest guy ever and a damned good architect.

I realize I’m being difficult, but it’s not in vain. It’s all for art, classical proportions, and good old-fashioned common sense.

Below is the plan view of my sleek jury box.


stair railing jury box plan view August 7, 2023

I made the new solid railing extend about a foot towards the den door to give the illusion of it being more centered. I have to concede that it makes better sense. Instead of applied moulding like the wainscoting, this guardrail should have raised rails and stiles like a door.

The corner blocks will help give the illusion of more “weight” while also adding some architectural detailing.




And, now, we can take off the back wainscoting. We can replace with two straight boxes, and then have the rest follow the stairs, as is done typically. Couldn’t we have done that before? No, because it was so visible, and now, it won’t be.


Okay, that’s all for the staircase (for now), but I’m quite sure not the end of the unreasonable building codes.


Please understand it’s only regarding the staircase railings and length of stair treads building codes that I find so confounding. I don’t understand why they are different for me than for a single-family residence. Yes, the building codes are fine for the public spaces within the building, but my one unit shouldn’t have more stringent requirements than if the entire 7,500-square-foot building belonged to me.

Everything else is fine.

Thanks again for all of the terrific ideas!



Part 3 Begins Here

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Wednesday morning, I received a call from my darling architect, who was returning my call.

First, he gave me some of the best news I’ve received. There is a clause in the building code that makes a provision for private in-unit dwellings to have a 36″ railing. Hooray! The crazy part of this whole thing is that none of this would be an issue if I owned the entire building.


We both think the stair tread issue was an oversight, so please cross your fingers that everything will be okay as planned.


The architect Tim, thinks we should make the guard rail upstairs as low as possible, which is 36″. Yes, please. And he thinks it’s fine to keep the original wainscoting. It will be showing because the new railing is lower and because of the perspective when standing.

This is such a game-changer.

The problem is, most people won’t know that 42″ is not going to look good. They’ll just go along with it, thinking that’s the way it has to be.

So, what’s the answer? I would try to do elevations, renderings, or some sort of mock-up. Also, doing research helped me with this one.


By the way, just because the ceiling is high doesn’t mean the guard rail can be high.


Remember the fireplace mantel post?


I feel that for things at about eye level or below, they should relate to human scale, which doesn’t change with the size of the room or the height of the ceiling.

Tim wants to wait to have the staircase approved before redesigning the new rail upstairs, and I agree that makes sense. However, he liked my plan and liked that the front is longer to give the illusion that it’s more centered on the wall.


Therefore, I reworked the rendering.


I drew it originally with five panels, but maybe three panels for the large middle section will look the best. As you’re about to see, most of it might very well be covered up.


living room pony wall AKA jury box stair railing Sara chandy settee
Me like.


Oh, what is that beautiful sofa, Laurel?

It’s one I can’t have. lol

It’s from Jamb, and probably $20,000 for the sofa and another $20,000 to get it into my living room from England.

Hardwicke Sofa from Jamb
Hardwicke Sofa from Jamb

It’s also a tad too large. I changed the color through manipulation using Picmonkey.

Coincidentally, Max Rollitt has a similar sofa in teal. – It’s also out of my price range and too large.


However, I could use my 84″ settee that’s currently in the bay window.


My settee December 2015

Here it is, in December 2015, when I was moving things around to take holiday photos. 
(For anyone tuning in recently, this is my old apartment in Bronxville, NY)


my Boston living room February 2022
While those wicker chairs aren’t normally there, the one on the right gives a good idea of where the settee will sit.

Then, I can put chairs around the dining table.

I feel this option is the best, and I’m glad I persevered with the height of the guardrail.

Thanks so much for all of your kind words!

Oh, I forgot one more image!


living room pony wall AKA jury box stair railing Sara chandelier settee circle transoms

What do you think of the new transom design?

A few hours later…


Sorry, I forgot to add that the railing going downstairs is still the X.


There has to be a handrail on the side away from the wall because the staircase is open.

I realize there’s a lot here and a lot that I’ve said in the comments. I don’t expect people to read everything, but please try to have a little faith in our process.

Renderings, plans, and elevations are only partial representations. It is not the same as being in the room.

As for the doors, 99.9% of the time, they are going to be open. When they’re closed, it will be when someone’s visiting, and they want privacy.


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163 Responses

  1. So here is what I would do. And it’s probably been said a million times. Leave it as is( I didn’t read the entire thing, I just stumbled upon it this morning). Leave it as it is, or do it as cheaply and quickly as you need to do to pass inspection). finish the rest of the house that needs to be inspected. Get the town out of your life ( inspectors etc…) then do the stairs how you want as long as it is safe. I would think the stability and height regarding a tall persons center of gravity is the most important. Done.

  2. The comment board is ablaze! You certainly have captured peoples’ interest. Circles, so interesting. Beautiful rendering, noticed subtle tonal change (natural light effect?) as scanned across room from windows left to kitchen right. Lots of talk about doors open and/or closed? I was struck by a photo from George Smith website of Jean-Louis Denoit vignette of gorgeous neo-classical-influenced sofa flanked by lovely double french doors on each side. The doors were mirrored, reflecting the gorgeous sitting room.

  3. Hi Laurel,

    I was looking at all the rectangular molding with the squares in the doors and the circles in the transom.I was thinking did you need the moulding on the jury box wall? Perhaps just the end pieces. I like the idea of thinner circles in the transom, can’t wait to see!

  4. IMO the jury box is visually very heavy in a narrow room. Take it from someone whose living room is only 13ft wide. My preference is the Ponderosa railing version #2 which in the architect’s elevation is drawn with 3 sections not as in your design of 2 sections and doesn’t include the additional vertical rails (a design aspect from your Parisian dream home image) and which holds the glass.

    Your concern is seeing the handrail on the opposite wall thru the glass/open railing. Trust me whilst I am a stickler for details, what you are looking at on the elevation is a flat 2 dimensional drawing of a lot of lines and I’m not going to lie it doesn’t look good or right. But once you have your Ponderosa version #2 actually in 3 dimensions whilst you will know the handrail is there you’ll stop seeing it. Draw it up in picmonkey with your version #2 (Ponderosa w 2 boxes and added vertical rails). Put the handrail on the opposite wall. Try a lucite handrail. You already have to add glass bc of codes so whilst lucite is not neoclassical it is simple and clean and disappears. Plus you wont be trying to hide the jury box with a sofa in front of it in a narrow room.

    Additionally, the elevation of the stair rail doesn’t include these vertical rails either. Obviously bc it is drawn to match the guardrail. This requires the glass to be bigger since it doesn’t have the vertical rails to attach to. Also, what is the transition of the stair rail to the living room guardrail?

    I know it seems absurd that the guardrail code is 42 inches. And if only the guardrail could be 40 inches so it can die into the wainscoting it would be perfection. But you don’t want to die on that cross bc that’s where the building inspector is going to stick. We had to deal with 42 inch code on our landing and have it transition to 36 inch for the stairs. It’s the code and they can be sticklers when they want to be. Ask your architect can there be a J curve say an inch or two just before the railing attaches to the wall. So the railing is at 42 inches per code but attaches to the wall at 40 inches (the height of your wainscoting). Here again, it is where the railing attaches that is incorrect visually. But in 3 dimensional reality you will never be looking straight on at the level of the railing in line with the wainscoting. It’s a win win!

    Love the process!

  5. I think you should check to be sure the jury box is the same length as the wall between the door frames. It would be more aesthetically pleasing. It looks like the right wall of the jury box over the stairs is just inside the door frame but the left side at the top of the stairs lines up several inches short of the door frame. I realize I’m looking at your rendering and not the blueprint. They may actually be the same length, but it’s something worth checking. Your settee might fit better, too, with the jury box being a little longer.

    I’m enjoying you sharing the construction process. Best of luck, stay strong. It will be a masterpiece when it is finished.

    1. Hi Susan,

      Okay, the box cannot be centered exactly on that wall. It would be nice, but would create other problems.

      The staircase itself, is not centered on the wall. (and can’t be) As it is, I did fudge the wall over towards the windows about a foot. We have to wait and see if we can do the staircase, itself as designed, or if it needs to be 15″ longer. If you notice, the staircase side of the room is wildly off-center. It took me a couple of years to figure this out, but the right-side door is not original. It was solid wall.

      There WAS a door where the cabinet is on the other side of the right-side doorway. That was the servant’s entrance into the butler’s pantry, adjacent to the building staircase right outside my front door.

      There are many floor plans of where the stairs are located, but I don’t have the neurons to search for them right now. However, the stairs begin about 9′-3″ away from the back wall before the bay begins. The hole ends about four inches away from the right side door casing.

      If the wall is centered, it will overlap with one of the left side French doors, when it’s open, which won’t look good. Plus, I don’t want the jury box taking up more space than necessary. But, as a compromise, I did extend it about a foot.

      One thing to remember about these things is that as one moves through the room, the symmetry is far less important as we’re not far enough removed from it to notice where the center point is that you see so clearly in the drawing.

      If I had a rendering coming from the kitchen, you would not realize that the wall isn’t perfectly centered. No, the settee won’t be perfectly centered either. But, not too far off that it’ll be annoying.

      Sorry if this doesn’t make sense. My fingers are a bit raw. lol

  6. Let there be Circles!

    Not that it affects the transom design but I’m hoping the French doors swing into the adjoining rooms. If they swing into the LR and are to be open most of the time, my enthusiasm for them diminishes.

    1. Hi Dan,

      It is not possible to have the set on the right side swing into the vestibule as it will block the entrance into the bedroom, as well as the cabinet on the right. That will make me nuts. So, those doors absolutely have to swing out. One set swinging in and one set swinging out is no good. By law, there needs to be a door on the left side for it to be a legal bedroom. Besides, when my son comes over, he would like to be able to close off the room. So, not having any doors is not an option. I can’t put doors on one side without doing them on the other side.

      As I’ve frequently said, this place is full of quirks and things I cannot change. The point is to do the best I can within the limitations I’ve been given to work with. I’ve even considered closing off that doorway, but then, the only access to the bathroom, and storage cabinet in the vestibule is through the den/bedroom.

      The doors are only 18″ wide. I do have the option of keeping one open, and one closed. Or, maybe I will close them most of the time. Knowing me, I’ll probably keep them open. I’m aware that the door closest to the railing will overlap it when open, but that’s one of those things I can’t change.

      By the way, I have considered bi-fold doors. However, I don’t think that would look so great, and might not be feasible with a 90″ very heavy glass door.

  7. I also love the new transom design. The squares looked heavy, this circle design somehow lifts? lightens? the whole wall. Plus the circles relate to the rosettes in the crown moulding and the rings of your chandelier, so good. Love it!

    The enclosed panelled railing design is lovely too. I am getting so excited for you!

  8. It’s really coming along and looks great. I think you’re going to love, love, love it when it’s completed.

  9. Wow so many comments!
    Love the circle in the new transom.
    Picks up the circles in the corner trim pieces of the door jams.
    Juror box makes for a more friendly furniture placement. Love your settee.

  10. I too preferred the squares in the transom. IDK, maybe if the circles were smaller or something. I think you said something about the doors mostly being open, or maybe somebody else said that, in which case what is at the very top probably doesn’t matter a whole lot. All I know is I’m sure glad I didn’t have hundreds of people eyeballing plans when I was designing my house. Most likely I would’ve done what I wanted to anyway so you go gal and do what makes you happy.

  11. I second Dottie in CT! I repeated it here: “I prefer the same squares in the transom. I found my eyes going to the transom with the circles and I was not focusing as much on how nice the room looked.”

    I had a rather strong reaction to the circles in the transom. Didn’t like them at all. It’s like you’re introducing a new design element into the room. And they stand out too much. I normally like all your designs though.

    1. To Dottie and Deb,

      Please remember that you are looking at a static 2-dimensional rendering of a view that doesn’t exist, unless one is sitting on top of the mantel. It is a distortion of the space, but represents the various elements. Photos also often distort the space and the rendering was taken from a photo taken with a cell phone, that I also straightened. There is a fair amount of distortion that the camera sees, but our eyes do not.

      Besides, the circles on center are approximately eight feet up off the ground.

      However, I do think they were a little heavy, so I just replaced the image from yesterday and made the circles a little smaller with a muntin size that better matches the horizontal muntins in size.

  12. Hi Laurel,
    For me, I prefer the same squares in the transom. I found my eyes going to the transom with the circles and I was not focusing as much on how nice the room looked.
    I also like the wainscot enclosing the top stairs. I think it makes it less obvious that there are stairs there.
    So glad that the Building Department has approved the 36″ height instead or requiring something higher.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. It is so helpful!!!


  13. Hi Laurel,

    Very interesting process,I really am enjoying following it. I like the box instead of the X’s but I still find all the lines busy. I liked Heather’s suggestion of leaving the stair box plain except for the ends. As for the transoms, I normally love circles with the meaning associated etc, for me there is just too much going on. What about leaving them plain? These are just observations from me not a designer and I realize things look different in “real” life. Your apartment looks lovely, so great that you are sharing the process with all of us. We just finished building a new home from a distance, some things I got right, some not so great. Wish I could say it was fun but after more than a year so nice to be in our space.

    1. I don’t know what horizontal lines you’re talking about. There are just as many if not more, vertical lines. But, who’s looking at lines? I don’t see lines when I’m in the room. I’m living my life, the same as everyone does.
      But, one day… I’ll look up from my laptop and I’ll smile because every element is harmonious like a symphony or a garden.

      I tried the three-foot wide plain transom and it looked too contemporary.

      Please, forgive me, but some of you guys are overthinking this and still forgetting that this rendering is not a view one ever sees when IN the room for real. This wall is always at an obtuse angle of varying degrees.

  14. The new design looks beautiful. I was not originally a believer in the 2-square transoms, but now that I’ve seen the transoms with the circles, I think either would work. I notice the original transom plan heightens the room and pulls your gaze upward (very dramatic and elegant), while the most recent design adds a whimsical touch and draws your eye down from the ceiling – emphasizing the half-way point of the wall and giving your eye a place to stop and explore. Either will work!

  15. I’ve enjoyed this journey in staircase design. This is so important because you will end up with something very much more useful for you and for others who come into the space.

    I have lost track where the pockets doors are that are leaving. I’m sad they are leaving. But where are they in your place exactly? When you have a moment, give us a view of them.

    When we bought our small Victorian house, it was a got rehab and somebody had already torn apart, leaving one pocket door. Well, there was nothing we could do with it and it’s a small house anyway, so he didn’t want to separate the living room and the dining area so we pulled that one sad, sole pocket door out.

  16. Hi Laurel, I really like the way this stairway project has developed. I like the way the closed wall hides the stair ‘void’. The open design which showed the stair void was a little like the existing version. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from you over the years. My husband and I are building a house in Columbia county and the design originally came from one of the building plans you posted. Thanks for giving those of us who are not going to hire a designer some good design help.

  17. Really like these new renderings and seeing the back wall detail over the solid railing changes everything…enhancing the staircase and making the entire area an important and deliberate part of the room, instead of something that just has to be there. With this rendering, the “hole” is gone, replaced by an elegant staircase. As for the transoms, either are very nice. The squares are traditional and elegant, the circles are also elegant and a tad witty (and unexpected quiet wit is always welcome, reminding me of some of the wonderful things you see in “One Man’s Folly.)” Will these transoms open? I have often seen that, in this case they would open out into the bigger room, with the handle on the inside smaller room. I’m guessing that helps with air and heat circulation but it also “opens” a room to see an open window above a door.

  18. I think the circle design of the transom windows is lovely. Circles say ‘completion’ and ‘inclusion’ and ‘perfection’. Here they command the room in a subtle, elegant way… speaking to the other circle shapes in the furnishings and even, faintly in the globe shapes of the flowers in your painting. My mother and her sisters were truly, madly,deeply (and competitively) preoccupied with interior design. One of their laws was that a room comes alive through the relationships of the things in it with each other. What I see happening here in Laurel’s new sitting room is that classical elegance/restraint is being given joie de vivre and harmony through the different design notes she is hitting.

  19. Hi Laurel! I think your current rendering of the stair railing is exquisite! Well done! You are such a talented designer! I adore you!! I do agree with Jeanne and Ira about not loving the new transom, however. Agree that the circles draw my attention away from the lovely focal point in the center (painting, etc). Instead of the single, larger perfect circles perhaps something softer. more teardrop-like curvilinear shapes or lines that mimic the curves on the sconces and chandelier globes, rather than perfect circles? Maybe a grouping of smaller ornamentals rather than a single shape?

  20. Laurel:

    I know I’m in the minority, but I do not like the new transoms. I find them distracting and busy. Saying that, it’s your house and you need to love it. Love all the information and learning from your remodel. I can’t wait to see if all finished!

  21. Absolutely love the circular motif on the transoms. It complements the soft curves of your furniture and helps balance the right angles on vertical surfaces. It also speaks to the rosettes on the moulding below your ceiling. Simple and elegant…you just know when you know!

  22. It’s going to look great, Laurel–I love the jury box!
    As for the camelback settee, you could probably find a similar one at Goodwill or the like, for a song, and have it reupholstered. The younguns’ don’t care for that style even though it’s a classic beauty. And the quality will be very good.
    Isn’t it amazing how many details need to be addressed in a renovation? And with the strict building codes in Massachusetts, it’s a real challenge. Your flexibility and creativity are going to yield a beautiful home. I’m loving following you on this journey!

  23. I’m really pleased for you, Laurel. Here in the UK, we think the new rail heights (90cm) specified by what we call ‘building regulations’ are onerous, but your original code requirement was just ridiculous. I’m so glad your architect found that clause. I also like the ‘jury box’ solution, especially given the show-through to the stair rail, and particularly given that you are using it as a sofa backdrop. It’s (and the new transoms are) looking so good!

  24. Thank you for letting us get our fix by including your readers in your design / construction. I loved your X rail design, however, it did get a little busy with your wainscoting. I wouldn’t wish the upkeep of clear plexiglass on anyone. The jury box looks simple and elegant…especially when you have an amazing settee in front of it. In fact, the jury box could function as a sofa table if you like.
    I love the new transoms. Whatever you do I’m sure it will look lovely.
    By the way, the Jamb sofa reminds me of my mom’s Sherril sofa (sans tufting) she purchased back in 1975. It was beautiful. After inheriting, I came home from work one day to find it destroyed by my dog wanting to get the horsehair out. C’est la vie.

    1. Hi Amy,

      The jury box is going to hopefully be no more than 3 inches deep, except on the ends, so no sofa table. There isn’t room. Plus, on the other side are the steps. I’m so clumsy. I can envision cups of coffee crashing to their deaths off the jury box. lol So, nothing will be set on top of there except for laundry. haha

  25. Hi Laurel,

    I’m wondering about all the horizontal lines you’ll see when you are facing the near wall of the enclosed staircase. There’s the back of your sofa, the top of the partial wall, maybe a finishing wooden cap to top off that wall, the top part of the moulding on the far wall, then the bottom and top of the painting. I know you won’t like this idea but I wonder if raising that wall to 42” to cover up seeing the moulding on the back wall might be a good idea after all. I suspect that seeing the difference in heights between the two walls may bother you in time.

    I have a 43” partial wall enclosing my staircase in a room 12’ high and 16’ wide with a 37 1/4” high buffet in front of it. With your sofa in front of the wall, I don’t think you will be disturbed by the height. If you want I’ll send you a picture of mine.

    I agree with someone (apologies for not having her name) who thought you might want to put the wall mouldings only on the end “posts”. No need to put them across the whole wall if you have furniture in front of it. Plus it makes the wall look busy.

    I’m not sure what you’re doing about the railing downstairs but I do know you want a very sturdy railing at least on one side, so that people can support themselves going up and down stairs. Being a very Senior Senior, I literally hang onto my railing for dear life and practically pull myself up with it.

    I love what you’re going to do on the far wall going downstairs. I forget what that treatment it’s called but it’s gorgeous.

    Regarding the transom, actually I prefer what the architect has drawn with a narrow piece going upwards from where the doors close. It’s not the width of the 2 door frames, just a fine piece of wood going upwards from where the doors meet. I think it’s simple and elegant with no distraction from the rest of the room.

    I’m sorry if I sound negative because I don’t mean to be. You have done an amazing job so far and no matter what you decide, I’m sure your home will be gorgeous when it’s done.

    1. Hi Heather,

      I’m not following much of what you’re suggesting, but, I’m very happy with the design, the height, of the rail, and the mouldings, etc.

      You know the story of the old man, his son, and the donkey, right?

      The railing going down the stairs is the same as it was, with one slight change.

  26. I love this so much! The jury box, the furniture, the lighting and artwork, and especially the updated transoms! I like how the circle in the transom relates to the rosettes. It’s instructive to see how your perseverance pays off. Plus you’re a decorating genius :] Oh, and I hope all those building code issues work out in your favor!

  27. What a puzzle!! Kudos to you to hang in there trying to figure it out and meet building codes. A question and a thought. What kind of railing will you have going downstairs now…can you use the iron railing there? If you don’t get to use the iron upstairs, have you thought about incorporating that design into your beautiful tall doors? (I do love the iron and brass design you had going there.). And lastly, why can’t you use the iron as planned upstairs, place a beautiful hand rail on the wall with the wains coating and then as you descend the stairs, the iron railing with the X design would begin where the stairs open up to the lower level. That is how my staircase is designed. Hard to describe, but on the lower level, the spindles and hand rail ( on the left as you go up the stairs) go as high as the first floor ceiling level then there is wall for about 4-5 steps as it then opens to the second floor. Headed upstairs the hand rail is on the right and available, headed down, it is on my left. Clear as mud right!! You’ll figure it out.

    1. Hi Kim,

      Sorry, I forgot to add it in, but I just did at the end. The X railing going down the stairs is as it was, with one small change. The handrail has to be on that side it’s on because it is open. That’s definitely in the codes and makes sense.

  28. Laurel,
    I love that the jury box gives you more “wall” to work with! And the circle transoms are lovely – I envision them at holiday times with a seasonal wreath or a “pretty” dangling in the center of the circle. 😊

  29. My2center had a great point re. the black hole which would have been visible with the X railing. Ptophobia is fear of falling, and it results in losing balance, dizziness, and symptoms akin to acrophobia. You don’t feel it. For some who do, it would be like standing next to the edge of the Grand Canyon.

  30. What good news from your architect! Your settee will look wonderful there, and chairs in the bay around the dining table will also look good and probably be more comfortable than the settee for eating. Sounds like a good plan going forward. And the circle transoms are so nice! They are a welcome break from all the straight lines on that side of the room. Love the idea!

  31. Nice new transom design. A break from all the squares. But then it might compete with the focal point — the painting. I look at the rendering and I immediately see the 2 round circles, so not sure how it will read in reality. Thus, thinking about it, the square would be the better option (IMHO). Glad you can have your 36″ railing.

  32. All good , love it.
    Regarding new transom… I love the design but not sure it fits .. what else will balance it in the room , like at the fireplace or in the bay window? It is simple and calmer than the other elements far

    1. Hi Jeanne,

      Why don’t you think it fits? It’s something new, but I think it’s better. What else balances a transom with a circle motif? Well, for one thing, every other circle in the room; the chandelier/shades, sconces/shades, rosettes on the fireplace mantel, dining table. Plus everything else with a curve. Huge windows. Then, there’s the curved cabinet in the kitchen.

      Have you seen Gerald Bland’s NYC apartment? He has a different type of circle transom over his French doors.

      Now, that the X is gone, I love the idea of bringing it back. I made it more simple this time.

  33. Hi Laurel,
    I don’t know if you have considered this or if anyone else brought it up. On your staircase you may want to request that they use polycarbonate panels as opposed to plexiglass. Polycarbonate will stay crystal clear and not yellow which is a problem with plexiglass.
    I am enjoying your process!

  34. Gorgeous Laurel, love the jury box. Couple of things I wondered about and probably you have already considered: doubling the width of inset panels to calm the visual busy-ness of the space? Beginning the balustrading on the first tread? A plaster return on the lower level cornice as it ends at the void? (We took a similarly rewarding journey to incorporate new but old/authentic looking stairs into our Victorian home with upper floor addition.) Finally, I’d love to share an image of the stair panelling we went with, which is inset, rather than selectively face fixed per your image (but don’t know how …). Love your work. You are an inspiration! Xx

  35. Well, whatever you decide is going to be lovely and so much better than the “trash can”. But, I do hate to see you give up on your dream railing. With my usual flair for the obvious, since I cannot imagine that you have not already considered this (so please share why this isn’t an option), what is the issue with moving the banister to the wall opposite the wrought iron railing? I’m sure your not objecting to seeing any banister whatsoever, because in every picture you’ve shown the railings are open enough to see plenty of details beyond them, and with the railings in the foreground a banister on the opposite wall won’t be offensive (in my opinion).

  36. I am so happy you have your final decision made ! That jury box will be beautiful . I loved the Xbox railing you wanted , but this will be better for this room. It was just too busy for the space .

    I cannot wait to see the final results . You have such good taste and I enjoy all your posts so much!! So exciting !

  37. You have made the right decision. It’s simple and elegant and congruent with the existing architecture. I too, am a huge fan of x railings, but here, to me the area looked cluttered. If you had removed paneling it would easier on the eye. You of course noticed that the railings you showed us have plain walls behind them. They are not competing with anything, like your vertical paneled wainscoting. The walls are clean and make the x’s stand out. Happily the jury box solution – less is more, works here. You will no doubt add complexity and richness in other ways.

  38. Was wondering earlier this week where the handrail was. Glad you found a solution that works. I think you’re adding so much value to your new place. Regarding the 42″ height and the size of the steps. 42″ has been required for a long time in NYC and I’m working on a staircase in CT and 42″ is required for any “landing” here too. But in both places the handrail can be lower, 34-38″. NYC absolutely requires 36″ width for any “new” residential staircase, allows a 9″ or 10″ tread but requires nosing then, but doesn’t require nosing on an 11″ tread. Risers no more than 8 1/4″, I like 7-7.5″. One reason I follow the codes exactly (though I do fight it out myself if I think there’s any chance of a better looking compromise)? Insurance. They can deny coverage. And IF I get any compromises or allowances in the code, I get it in writing because the next city inspector can always reverse it and they still do final inspections. Best of luck.

  39. Hi Laurel, I think this area around the stairs is experienced like a stair landing. One doesn’t necessarily conjure all kinds of film noir nightmares standing at the foot of an ascending stairway (maybe why most photos of stairs are of from the bottom of the stairway). It’s good to know for potential re-sale how many people couldn’t deal with too much of the sight of the black hole (at least in concept). I wonder about something like these elements in your design that might give the solidity that makes people feel safe and some airiness at the top that you favor?

  40. I’m glad the jury box won. I just love the look. Making it slimmer makes total sense. Oh, gosh, once it’s all done, please, please have an open house. I’ll fly out to Boston to meet you and see your beautiful house.

  41. Huzzah for the jury box! I knew the XX and the handrail were going to be a big mess. I could not understand why you didn’t realize why it worked on your examples but why it wouldn’t work in your unique situation. I think you’d gone XXLove Blind.

  42. Oh boy, I was thinking about those crossed lines all along but thought I must be missing something!!

    Please, please do an updated rendering of the jury box with furniture. I keep scrolling up and down, but do not see one with the simplified molding. Just how many molding boxes will be along the jury half wall we see?

    I think the addition of the furniture and a reminder about the width of the room helps us see why you were reluctant to choose the box.

    I am heaving a sigh of relief. I don’t think people were objecting to the black per se, but rather to the busy WITH the black. At least, that is what I was imagining.

  43. Hi Laurel,
    The final X design was elegant and had great charm…but somehow it seemed to fight with the more solid geometric (regimented?) wainscoting and door frames. Perhaps simply be due to the emphasized vertical lines in the drawings, but the wainscoting was winning and that delicate railing was losing.

    The “box” does not argue with the surrounding geometry but seems to “become one” with it. (yeah, that’s a dorky sentence… )

    I like the end product, but I do wish there had been a way to incorporate those X’s.

  44. So, just to keep this interesting thread going :)) I am looking at your pics again today and wondering about the way the wainscotting looks on the wall behind the X railing going down the staircase. I can’t “see it” in real life in my mind the way you can but in the architects drawing it looks very busy to me. Looking at your pics of the “X Staircase Railing Prototypes” I don’t see any walls with wainscotting (one wall – bottom middle #5 has something going on but I don’t know what). Is the middle picture (#2), anything like what you will see from below when it is done? Also, someone mentioned a baby gate with your X rail design. Anyway, I think that is what she was trying to say. If so, you could still have a bit of your design upstairs too that way.

  45. I love how this design dilemma so clearly illustrates the importance of having a complete and clear plan and of working with with professionals, even when you are one. Even with your high level of expertise and experience, you didn’t immediately think of how the descending railing would look behind the stairwell enclosure. I’m sure that’s a mistake most of your readers would’ve made, including me. I loved the X railing far more than the jury box, but am glad that you’ve avoided a costly error.

  46. I love the jury box railing! To me it gives a smoother visual sweep to the room. I imagine where my eyes would go if I first enter a room and I found the X railing too distracting. I think it will have a more pleasing feel to have the jury box thus allowing the focus to be on your new stunning fireplace or gorgeous window nook. I can’t wait to see the results of this reno!

  47. I loved the iron railing. But I love the jury box more now. Its more quiet/serene and allows the other design elements in the room to shine for an integrated elegance.

  48. One thing I haven’t seen addressed is what you are going to use for your railing below the first floor and also what your handrail will be now that you are going with the jury box. Will you have an open railing at the bottom? Will it all be white?
    Could you use black metal spindles with a diamond design in them? I can’t picture what will look appropriate with the rest of your architecture. Will your stair treads be white or stained wood? Would a stained handrail look right?

  49. Laurel, SO,SO,SO glad you could finally see that the solid enclosure looks and feels so much better! The delicate iron railing presented a feeling of unease in that room…….like an accident waiting to happen. It was also too distracting and busy. Amen.

  50. I understand why you are switching to the partial wall but I am disappointed about you losing the X railings. I felt it kept the feel of a larger space and added more charm, but I know you will make the jury box work well too.

  51. Random thoughts….. I keep wondering how your spiral stairway ever got approved. How did it possibly meet code? It certainly was installed after the fact. There is no way it is original to the building. Are the stair treads on it 11″? Go figure, the Code Gods had no problem with it, but replacing an unsafe stairway is now under their magnifying glass. You have to wonder if someone greased their palms to get it approved.

    I have a question about your stairway and the wainscoting. Why do you want to replace the wainscoting all the wall behind the stairway? I must have missed that discussion? Will it look odd to have a different width wainscoting on that part of the wall? It would be nice if the wainscoting on the wall and the jury box could be the same height.

    I’m glad you decided to go with the jury box. I had wondered how your X one would look with the hand railing at an angle behind it. Since I know nothing about design, I assumed you had considered this already and had it figured out. I’m glad you did more drawings and found the problem before you had them made. Will the jury box be a cheaper option than a custom built metal railing?

  52. Laurel, this has been such a fun post to follow! I also agree that the building code height for railings makes it very difficult from the design standpoint, often looking abnormally high in reality.
    Sometimes one has to just choose the lesser of two evils in design. If visually you really like your jury box at 36”, could you possibly put a black iron railing above it at 42” from one plinth to the other, and then from the corner plinth to the wall? I would think that would visually disappear, but you would have satisfied the code. That might be an alternative solution to making your jury wall higher than you think is visually pleasing.

  53. Love, Love, Love the Jury Box! It hides the stairs! It is substantial and clean in its design. The iron rail is very distracting and feels wrong. The architectural jury box is stunning! No contest for me. Love the velvet bench floating in front of the white box!!!

  54. To my eye, there are a lot of “little boxes” (wainscoting and glass panes in doors) going on in a small space. I would prefer the wainscoting of the jury box on the corner blocks only and a solid pane of glass on the doors’ transoms.

  55. Well…as usual you came up with a solution that is better suited, more beautiful and graceful than any of of “our” ideas. Because of the weighted ends and the raised rails and stiles (like a door…after all that stairway IS the door to your master bedroom suite), now the jury box effect has disappeared, replaced by a classic stair entrance which reflects, balances and enhances the two beautiful doors on each side. Wow. Like most brilliant solutions it seems so simple now. Ha!

  56. Laurel:

    Good morning! I know you’ve already decided, but I wish the black railing would have worked. I like how it ties in with your sconces. That being said, the “jury box” is lovely as well. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

  57. Hi, Laurel! I am enjoying reading about your renovation. I like the jury box, too. One thing that came to mind, as a grandma, was that you could have a gated wall on the open side that leads to the stairs. This would be useful if you have grandchildren or other small children visit. Perhaps it could be made now and installed later. Of course there are commercial baby gates, but they are ugly.

  58. I’m an interior designer and I LOVE the “jury box” because it is serene and lets your art, sconces and furniture “do the talking”. The railings are MUCH too busy, especially with all the wainscoting…..too much “carrying on” as we say Down South!! And it almost hides the fact that there is a stairway going down….it’s such a nice “surprise”!! Carry on.

  59. Hi Laurel,
    I didn’t mean to confuse you with my previous comment. When I said I preferred it walled off, I meant the partial wall. Or jury box as you called it. Lol.
    You’re a hoot! 😂
    Anyhoo…I’m glad you made a decision. I know it’s going to be fabulous.
    Now…what’s the next issue we can all debate over?

  60. Laurel, I’m a designer and a GC. Here is what you do when the code makes no sense: You install the least expensive to the code railing. Sometime after the inspections are fully completed, you install your beautiful, but safe design. Codes were originally developed for safety and structural stability, but the people in power have gotten out of hand.

  61. Oh boy. If you had not caught that, it would have bothered you on the regular. Even though I had thought that the railing would be better, I too was surprised at how much I liked the jury box mock-up with furniture. It does look very good with furniture — better than the railing does. And now that is the view you will have! What a big relief! A last minute, very good, wonderful decision!

  62. Another thought: (1) Wait them out until a more reasonable building code/board comes into power, and do what you can around the “trash can” stair case; or (2) lobby for a change to the moronic building code while you continue to do what you can around the “trash can”; or (3) run for a position at the building code (Are they elected positions?); or (4) submit plans that comply with what the morons want, and since they never come on site do what the freak you want anyway (not recommended, but possible) and chalk it up as a mistake if it ever comes to light.

  63. Well, if it’s any consolation, the fact that someone as experienced and amazingly talented as you are STILL is going through a less than perfect experience is extremely comforting to me when my husband, who if he doesn’t shut-the-freak-up may become a (how did you call it?) wasband, as we go through putting our house back together post tornado a couple of years ago!

  64. Laurel,

    I’m a little surprised at the number of votes for the “jury box”. The other drawings may give an impression of a “gaping hole”, but I don’t see that. There will be stairs descending, not a gaping hole. Any of your diagrams will be a HUGE improvement over the existing hole in the floor, but I think the railings will help you “see” the stairs better than the “jury box” would. My preference is #3, but I know whatever you choose to do will be the best for the space over all. I can’t wait to see it come together. Thank you for helping us “see” this process and glean from you experience and knowledge.

  65. I do love the closed stringer in those instances as they remind me of old European houses. Funny that you call the enclosed, paneled look a jury box as it put me in mind of murder trials. I also think it’s trying too hard to mimic rather than design. I like the lighter, more open look that allows the space to be visually open to the rest. But definitely keep the wainscoting that is there. The one that puts me in mind of descent into a sanitarium dungeon is the one you’re rightly losing. Your metal/plexiglass design is respectful of classical elements as fitting while not being a slave and fits the old house made over vibe better, I think.

  66. My dear Laurel, In my opinion, the decorative iron railing just calls attention to the unfortunate hole in your floor. In the photos you show of similar railings, they ‘work’ because one can see the whole situation…….of a stairway going up, or a balcony. In your case, one would wonder ‘what in the world is at the bottom’. It’s not the design feature you want to call attention to. Also the more solid jury box would be safer for your future grandchildren, as well as looking better.

  67. I read everything and went back to the renderings. I prefer the jury box and don’t think that the loss of floor space should be a deal-breaker, but, I have an idea that might be an alternative if you decide to use wrought iron. Keep your Georgian transoms and mimic the internal design in the iron/steel railing. Perhaps the black colour is too stark and painting it another colour borrowing from some upholstery or other room item such as a pastel green or whatever.

  68. Laurel,

    Here is my 2 cents worth. I don’t care for any of the diagrams you did (I think they would be lovely for an outside balcony). I know you love the designs but in my opinion they are all just too busy and will say look at me what do you think? I prefer the solid wall with the design to match you wall. It doesn’t stick out and just blends in with the rest of the room that is beautiful! Just saying………..

  69. Hi all, here’s my 2 cents. After looking at the the drawings in this post I too liked the “jury box”. But, what we are all forgetting, is that WE ARE NOT IN THE SPACE🤪. Laurel, our fearless leader in all things design, IS IN THE SPACE. So, I am back to trusting Laurel’s decision on this one. Parisian apartment railings all the way! 😘

  70. I love gut renovations, have been thru several over the 26 years in our old home. When the walls come down and “visions” start to come true…ahhhh. Regarding the staircase opening. I see the beauty of your design, but I also see the wonderful examples you furnished…why do they not compute to me the same way as the proposed design?…Is it because they are installed on a wood wall? Sometimes that “wall” is the wall beneath the staircase structure, sometimes the staircase itself, sometimes a balcony, but in all your examples there is a substantial wood element beneath the wrought iron and using just the floor isn’t the same. Inches are crucial but this is also a crucial focal point in your home. KittyKat is right, walls don’t have to be that thick and a taller partial wall, perhaps (height) staggered, with a beautiful railing on the lower portion might serve you better? As it stands, to me, your drawing says “lovely manhole barrier as good as I could make it” while a higher closed wall (with a stunning parsian mirror?) says “intentional wall and look here, something equally as beautiful lurks just around the corner.” And the scones are lovely but a charming light fixture hanging in a stairwell always says welcome whether you are upstairs or downstairs. Other thoughts: Can the barrier curve? Can the wrought iron (or wall) be much taller at one end and slope? (anything to take away from the “manhole” reference). When I am in the midst of bare studs and construction debris, sometimes a friend can point out something they see from a distance that I hadn’t considered because I am sooooo close to it. Still, you have lived in this space, and you alone have the insight and background professional experience needed to know what works. Agreeing with others, whatever you do will be wonderful.

    As for the doors, yes, wall them in but first close them and take a picture. A nice picture. Print and frame (it doesn’t have to be big). Put a label on the back describing the doors, where they are, and date it. Make that picture a part of the downstairs area. Someone many years from now will thank you. And I’m sure you are doing this, but just in case…take lots of pictures with a tape showing inches and relationship to walls etc. now, and as “things” are done, so if they ever have to be “undone”….you know exactly where that pipe is or that stud or that wire.

    Sending all good thoughts your way. This will all pass and by Christmas(?) you will be living in a home where every room prompts your smile. Ahhhhh.

  71. Laurel, I’m not a designer, and I certainly can’t draw a plan or write a column so I ponder to give an idea.
    Your idea is very thought out but it seems to be very hard to get it exactly like you love it and at the end we want to love it! I love the enclosed like you drew but to make it more amazing could you see it with the back wall behind the enclosure with the same kind of molding as on the enclosure but the molding would have to be raised up much higher and then it could be seen. I don’t know the rules of how high but you do I’m sure. Also the gorgeous Gatewood sconces would show even more. And it might save you more money to put towards the jewelry pieces that add so much interest! Keep thinking and you are the best out there and you teach us so much. I’ve followed you for about ten years or so! You will figure this out!

  72. Laurel, That hole in your floor is really, really scary. The delicate railing and plex doesn’t seem like the best option. The solid enclosure with the pretty molding looks like a better solution. It would make the room look and feel cozier and safer, and more visually comfortable. Just seeing a dark hole and stairs with such a delicate railing feels creepy. I agree with the many reasons your readers gave for favoring the solid enclosure.

  73. I realize I’ve had two glasses of Cabernet on a Sunday evening, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what a “closed” stringer is. Therefore, I don’t see the problem. However, I have no doubt that whatever you choose, Laurel will be spectacular and I’m looking forward to the finished project.

  74. I love #3. I think the jury box is visually too much for the space. The squares in the other railings are too big. The smaller ones look more elegant and, I think, will do so even with glass on them. I also think the 42″ height works well with your ceiling height. The jury box as sketched out at the lower height seems out of proportion to me.

  75. I think the jury box looks better and as others have mentioned covers the noticeable hole.
    If the jury box was the selection, would the X railing that you like so much be incorporated in railing going downstairs? I liked # 6 railing the best. I think that the railing in the Parisian home looks rather busy. You’re the expert and I can’t wait to see your dreams come true in the way that pleases you the best. Wishing you the best. Denise

  76. I vote jury box as well. You have a nice drawing/schematic of what it would look like vs the iron/brass railing, You could decorate/style in front of the jury box. Perhaps a small table w/lamp and an antique small chair next to the table. I don’t think you could do that with the plexiglass iron railing as it is too busy and would look cluttered and way too much. IMO. I don’t know how much room/width there is in the living room, so my suggestion might not be possible.

    Whatever you end up doing will be so so much better than the metal tube railing there now. Honestly, it looks as if that circular staircase with the heavy white metal tube railing is leading you down into a medical testing facility. It’s so sterile and hospital looking.

  77. Laurel, I am weighing for the first time. I definitely like the X railing the best, and would use architectural glass if possible. My absolute first reaction to the half wall was the same as yours – jury box! The “iron” railing is much lighter and will be so attractive in the space. Lastly, I’m afraid that I at least, in part, agree with the building code. If the railing were completely open, it would be a real hazard. Good luck with it all!

  78. What about a jury box, with glass panels suspended from the ceiling, and attached to the top of the box, stabilizing them. Beautiful ironwork could be created to hold the glass in place, which could perhaps compliment the design you currently love. I am ‘not’ at all ‘seeing’ panels from the ’70s secured to base and ceiling with wrought iron posts – these instead would be suspended.

    What if on the jury box you had for example, three panels. Over the glass (as mentioned above) either with iron, or painted wood, or another metal, you matched the design from the three wood panels (on the box). Could be splendidly unique, yet complimentary. The focus would vanish from the ‘hole’ in the floor.

    I’ve NO idea how code would/would not apply.

    Wish I could sketch it out here.

  79. I only have one thing to say and that is how on earth did anyone survive without building codes? When the pioneers came and built their homes without them it is totally amazing that any of their children lived! Think of all the generations that came after and had no codes to live by. It leaves one gobsmacked to think they managed without the government getting involved. Look don’t get me wrong I know some are for safety and to help future sales to a person that may be handicapped, but come on guys, too many are totally ridiculous and just plain annoying. I give you credit for your patience and admire your creativity and attention to detail especially when it comes to proper architecture, something the building codes care nothing about. Best of luck getting the final look you want, I’m sure it will be as near perfection as possible and I can’t wait to see it.

  80. Voting for the jury box – but – can your gorgeous railing be installed on it – with the jury box being just plain and painted…
    It looks great in my imagination, anyway…

    Your insights and creative adaptabilities are thoughtful and inspiring…
    Awaiting the next ‘installment’ .. knowing it will all be beautiful when you’re done…

  81. I just perused Pinterest for stairwells with railings vs half walls (or bookcases) to see real examples rather than elevation views. Bookcases were least favorite. Too busy/cluttered regardless of whether you have room for one. Also I couldn’t find an example of a half wall that really looked good. Granted, none of the spaces that had them had your home’s architecture or your design flair, but it made me more convinced that your railing preference is correct. There was a railing similar to yours that had a wooden “base” which made it relate better to the nearby walls though. Was more grounded seemed more like it belonged, less of a hole in the floor as some have said. You will make the best choice for you, I am sure!!!

  82. I vote for the jury box. It blends seamlessly, and while beautiful on its own, it allows other items in the room to be stars.

  83. As always, a fascinating conundrum. I am reminded of how it always ends up that the best laid plans… need to change. Your patience and flexibility are evident. My humble suggestions are: Clear architectural glass invisibly embedded in the X design is a non negotiable safety consideration. Make sure you get the kind that doesn’t show green edges, low iron content, and invisible fasteners. I have always wondered if the X railing design and the beautiful wainscoting would “argue”, but you can always paint the black railing white and mostly “disappear” the railing if you regret this decision. Finally, under the wainscoting on the way down the stairs, I would reduce visual contrast (which leads to a “hole” feeling) with a rim finishing that is the same wood colour as your gorgeous floors so that from a distance you see straight horizontal lines of white baseboard, hardwood upon which the railing can neatly superimpose. Respectfully offered! You are The Master of getting impressive shit done!!! I can’t tell you how much I value these posts, value how smart you and your readership are (judging by the comments), and how much I empathize with how painstaking the process is (emphasis on the pain). I am a chronic DIYer, mostly due to being housepoor in expensive Vancouver BC, Canada, and these “windows” into the creative, practical and permit-madness process of achieving “most beautiful” are pure gold. Thank you!!

  84. Love the railing designs, BUT after trying to envision railing vs. jury box, I surprisingly come down on the latter. More serene and, oddly, less busy. I’d need to do a cardboard mockup to be sure. No bookcases, however, as I think that could distract from the elegant view to the spectacular windows. If you do go with railings, I think plex is awful. Scratches and a nightmare to keep clean. I assume it’s required by code so some kid doesn’t strangle, but I’m with Dan and think it ages poorly & would remove it 5 minutes after inspection. Bldg. codes are hell to navigate…fingers crossed for you. In the end, it’s going to be lovely!

  85. Dan and Sheree reminded me that when I first viewed the mockup that said “plexiglass” my thought was ugh – nooooooo! Then the thought of trying to keep either plexiglass or glass clean and sparkly??? (I have big dogs so I guess that’s where that thought comes from). Do the building codes really require something solid? I hope not and I can’t remember if you already said they actually do.

  86. Okay, so I have never felt comfortable with the x design railing, but I thought this was based on my personal stair trauma. I am surprised to see all the votes for the jury box. I have to say that the jury box gives me peace of mind.

    Just how much does the 4″ you would lose to a wall impact your furniture arrangement?

    I absolutely do not understand where the glass/plexiglass is going.

    Your Parisian dream home inspiration photo does not trigger me, but this is perhaps because the photo is from the bottom of the stairs, not the top. Also, the stairs themselves are so prominent in the space, that there is no chance of stepping into a black hole.

    I want to stay, start with a blank slate and consider an entirely different rail design which has more heft. But I think you will not like that at all.

    Consider a white wood railing? Consider white painted iron railing?

    Consider a more closed design railing?

    What bothers me about your black, x design is the enormous hole it creates in the space. I get vertigo just looking at it. How do you plan to arrange your furniture in relation to it?

    I think we need different angle pictures of the room because looking straight into that hole with a bare bones x is way disorienting for me.

    I just can’t imagine how the room is going to function in relation to this stairwell. And the folks who mentioned grandchildren have made an important point.

    1. Hi Ramona,

      What grandchildren???
      On the off chance that there are any, I’m sure they’ll be playing in the loft that’s nine feet off the ground in the den. And, they’ll get up there without a ladder, too.

      Plexiglass, or glass, gets attached to the vertical plane of the railing where the X is.

      I am considering options, but each one has issues. Yes, the space is already too tight.

      There’s another thing to consider. If I do the jury box or a thinner version of it, what will the stair railing be?

      Of course, it can be something different.

  87. The jury box is just too much for that room. To me, it looks like a very nice bar, but is a bar needed there? Love the idea of the beautiful railing. Perhaps the people looking at the drawing like it because it looks like it blends in with the wall in the background. When you got it in, it’d be much too large and imposing for the space.

    1. Hi Mary,

      That’s right. I want it to look nice, but more or less disappear without looking too contemporary. It seems that people think there’s a better chance of falling through it, if it’s less bulky, but you can’t fall through it any more than you can a closed window.

  88. The jury box lets me focus on your lovely art work and sconces rather than a rail and “hole” in the floor. Could the lovely railing you have designed be installed going down the stairs into that living space like the Parisian apartment stairs? That way you still can enjoy your design work. The lovely examples of railings all go upstairs and “feel” secure and allow you to focus on art work as you travel up and down them.

    I know your final choice will be the best for you and the best design for your lovely home. It’s wonderful to get to travel along and experience your thoughts and plans. It’s a wonderful learning experience for me!

  89. I like the half wall best, as it provides a more finished compliment to the room, not adding the distracting element of metal. The wall does not need to be 4 1/2 inches thick, however. 2×4’s can be turned sideways, running along the length of the opening, rather than perpendicular. My contractor did that to gain a couple of VITAL inches in a small space. The strength of the wall remains, while becoming user oriented.

  90. I echo Liz who asked for “mock-ups” of the space with the railing (or wall) at the 42″ height, so we can get a better sense of what it would look like. If you do end up with the jury box (which I really like BTW), could you have electrical run to that wall, so you can have extra outlets, since the current outlets on your wall will be useless with the staircase there? I also like the railings (I like both #2 and #3), but I don’t love the idea of plexiglass; it sounds like more work to keep beautiful! I know whatever you choose will be beautiful!

  91. Contrary to pop opinion, I’m not a fan of the jury box. I think it looks heavy and space consuming. It would also block natural light going into the stairwell and make things darker down there. No thanks.

    However, I’m def not a fan of using plexiglass either. Non-glare glass would be nicer, albeit more expensive. Plexiglass does not age well and looks like something tacked on to keep the cat from falling through. I guess I’d put in the plexiglass and then remove it 60 seconds after the final inspection.

    Or, if the code were to permit you to eliminate glass or plexiglass by adding a vertical rod through the center of the X like Steve Gambrel’s design, that’s what I might prefer. Even if code also required a horizontal rod through the center of the X. The rods might be minimized by making them smaller diameter than the X, and possibly make them brass or gilded to look more intentional and secondary to the primary X design. Just an alternative if it could possibly satisfy the code. No need to reply, I know you’re busy, and it’s summer!

  92. I like the jury box also. It blends in with the wall and makes the hole in the floor disappear. The focus should be on the bay window and view as another person mentioned.
    After completely remodeling and building several homes, sometimes what you pictured isn’t what you end up with, but somehow works better. You’re putting your desired Parisienne look into an American classic home and it isn’t working.
    I’ve enjoyed this website for years and looking forward to seeing the finished renovation.

    1. Hi Denise,

      Unfortunately, it’s a view of an unattractive alley and zillions of electrical wires. But, yes, the windows do grab one’s attention more than anything.

  93. Laurel,
    Anything YOU decide to do is better than the industrial, “i am headed down to the basement trash bin 🙁 “ current staircase
    Best wishes.

  94. Agreeing with others about the wall – looks less busy and less dangerous! The idea about bookcases also seems both smart and useful.

    Enjoying your renovation updates – thank you for sharing!

  95. Laurel, I was disappointed you didn’t show us a new view with the railing at 42″ – next post, right? (please, please). I didn’t especially like the view with the solid wall but after reading all the other posts I understand what was said in favor of one. So, I hope you will show us a 42″ view with a solid wall too. Also, I “bookmarked” your link and that is what I use to go to and log in to Amazon so I hope it is working. I don’t spend much there but hopefully every little bit helps.

  96. My view is you have to live in it and love the end results. If you change something due to others views then you may have regrets over it later.

    On another note. Are you fully recovered from I think being ran over? I find my injuries hurt more in winter. Hope not for you!

    1. Hi Cathy,

      Thank you for asking. I was fully recovered after about two weeks. I was damned lucky it wasn’t worse than that. Fortunately, I wasn’t run over, but knocked over and practically underneath the next car waiting to leave the parking garage. I’m so sorry you were hurt!!!

  97. I like the iron railing but I like number 2 and isn’t it like the parisan dream apt railing? Are you going to have furniture siting in front of this railing?
    The reason I like this railing is because it has more vertical lines , which matches or compliments the vertical lines in the wainscoting which also picks up the vertical lines in the French doors … not match match but mire cohesive

  98. Please consider the jury box – so much safer and if children or folks with disabilities visit, you can install a gate.

    1. Hi Lucinda,

      A gate could be installed with whatever I end up doing. We had a horrible stair situation when my boys were crawling around. One short flight went down and one went up, with a 90 degree right turn, so we wedged the playpen in between the two flights. It worked quite nicely. You can see the stairwell here.

  99. REGARDING YOUR AMAZON LINK – How will I know IF A. I did it correctly? B. You get the credit for my purchase? I’m happy to funnel some funds your way by doing that, I just want to make certain it actually works? Many thanks!!! PS – ANY of the solutions for the railing will be infinitely better than what’s currently there. I don’t always see the differences you are pointing out, but I’m fascinated by your attention to detail!!

    1. Hi Tea,

      Thanks for asking. It would be nice if a bell went off. I know. I feel the same way and sometimes will click a link a couple of times, just to make sure. However, they do work. The only way it won’t work is if you already have items in your cart, before clicking the link. So, I am suggesting if people want to shop, to put the items with the save for later, option. Then when ready to pay, come back and click any link, or keep a link handy someplace like a bookmark.

      For Amazon the window is only 24 hours. Other vendors, the cookie lasts much longer. Hope that helps!

  100. I feel for you, Laurel, trying to work out such a design conundrum. I appreciate the classical beauty of the black wrought iron railing, but am concerned that it will look too busy against the white paneling on the wall behind– such a lot of verticals, horizontals & diagonals in black and in white/grey. Most of the images/prototypes in your post show a black railing against a fairly plain background– or at least with some distance between the railing & a busier background.
    I’m thinking that the focal point of your room is the beautiful bow window with neoclassical drapery, isn’t it? My concern is that the black railing with its high contrast verticals, horizontals, & diagonals, will distract from the window wall. I guess I prefer the paneled, solid railing wall. as it will look less busy. Might the paneled solid “jury box” also help reduce drafts, too?
    I think inviting the permit guy over is a great idea (offering really good cookies helps, too).
    Good luck! And now I’m back to agonizing over a new kitchen sink– not too small, not too large, juuuust right! I feel like Goldilocks!

  101. I really like the partial wall enclosure. It is less distracting and looks really nice. I also wish there was a gate across the opening. The staircase is in an awkward location and I’m afraid it would be too easy for someone to take a header down the stairs. I know of someone who died falling down an unexpected staircase. There is enough going on with the wainscoting and all the architectural details in your room. Adding another element of design doesn’t seem necessary. Just my two cents. I’m not a designer but psychologically the open look railing is a bit unnerving to me.

    1. Hi Pat,

      I realize that my perspective is misleading. I would have to be sitting on the fireplace mantel for it to look like this. It’s the cell phone lens that created the distortion. It is a tight space as it is. The staircase as it is, is a thousand times more dangerous than what I’m proposing. There are multiple ways a person could easily slip through and fall to their death.

  102. hi laura—

    my two cents: i prefer the “jury box” which seems to make the hole in the floor disappear. the space would seem more unified and relaxed with that option i think.

    you are so amazing at dealing with details.

    carry on!



  103. I think NFONCA has the best idea. Invite the inspector to look at the physical space and collaborate on a solution. You’re more likely to get an approval.

    I know everyone loves to hate building codes but they are written by City Council or some other government entity, not the inspectors.

    1. Hi Corinne,

      The codes are written by the International Building Code for buildings of my size. One and two-family buildings are governed by the IRC, international residential code.

      However, the problem is that you are thinking like a lucid, normal, rational, clear-thinking human, and you seriously need to cut it out. lol

      The inspectors will NOT come over.

      They will not collaborate.

      They don’t care if there isn’t room.

      They don’t care if we are trying to keep as much of this historical, (national registry) building’s character intact. (except for the exterior). The interior, if anything is changed, it MUST be up to code.

      They don’t care if a doorway is shoved into a corner, or if the stairs begin too close to a doorway. That’s because the doorway is perpendicular, and for some reason, that’s not a factor as long as the door to that room isn’t covering up any part of the stairwell.

      They are robotic dictators with waaay too much power. My only recourse is to appeal and hold up the job for months and months.

      I’ve been told, that ten years ago or so, it was quite different. However, there’s a new crew, and they are rude and unyielding.

      Interestingly, contractor #1, (who kept putting me off and off and off) and who’s even more experienced than my current highly experienced contractor did not know about this code. Contractor #1 told me that the ten-inch tread (9″ in plan view) would be fine.

  104. Well, I love the railing design. You have plenty of millwork in the room and the railing is a nice departure. It looks lovely. And it will not be a focus of the room because there will be furnishings and artwork and pillows and other decor. It is a very nice hit of black to ground things.

  105. Have you thought of giving away the pocket doors to anyone that will come remove them without damaging your condo? So many original pocket doors are missing from historical houses and can’t be replaced. If the pocket doors are too large to fit through the exterior doors this would not be an option. In New Orleans you would have a line of people willing to take them.

    1. Hi Lesa,

      The cost to remove them, safely would be prohibitively expensive. Everything is already wildly expensive; I don’t have that kind of money.

      In addition, these are massive doors, three-inches thick and 113″ high. So, the odds of them fitting somewhere else are not great.

  106. I really love the railing you have designed and the wainscoting. The photos you show demonstrate the railing is consistent with homes of your era and area. My brain tells me this is a stairway and not a hole in the floor. Blueprints are Greek to me but it seems having a box with storage and shelving and benches isn’t even reasonable, it would be a big stick out into the room.
    I don’t understand the “inch longer than required.” Do what’s required, isn’t that best? They’re in the business of creating problems?

    We are remodeling our entire house, it never stops. We have 3 sliding doors across the back of the house for the kitchen and living room to go out to the back deck. The sofa is kinda in the way of one of the doors so the kitchen designer wants to wall it up. She says it’s dumb to have a door there.

    I see her point but this is a long skinny house oriented to a beautiful view. The view is all this house has going for it, no curb appeal, no architectural appeal at all. If we move the sofa forward we’re sitting next to the fireplace. If we move it back, you have a dumb looking long skinny living room not connected to any other seating because, of course, there’s another door coming from the garage on the other side of the room. The sofa is floated with a sofa table behind it. I like it like this.

    I’d rather have the view than logic.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      The inch longer than required refers to the size of the stair tread. A single-family or two-family home is allowed to have a 10″ tread. Dwellings with an occupancy of three or more units (R-2 units) have to have an 11″ tread, no matter if it’s a private staircase or a public (shared) staircase. That is the problem.

      I agree. R-2 units should have the longer tread for the COMMON stairwell. Mine is for me, ALONE, so why is my IN-UNIT, PRIVATE, NON-SHARED staircase subject to a more stringent code than a single or two-family home for a shared staircase?

      There IS another shared staircase two steps outside my front door. (which is only 34″ wide, but it’s existing, so that’s okay)

      The codes are based on occupancy. Having the longer tread just because there are four other apartments doesn’t make sense because they aren’t using it.

  107. Where is glass or Plexiglass going?! The rail alone is against code? A ‘jury box’ incorporating a bookshelf is sounding lovely after seeing the Plexiglass addition.

  108. Good morning everyone. Please don’t hate me, but my preference would be to wall off the opening.
    I would like the option of having built-in bookcases installed into that wall. Your picture showing how it would look convinced me. Yes, you show it with wainscoting but I would have bookcases. Books always add warmth to a room. And it would give you a space to display photos & mementos.
    This is what makes design interesting to me. Everyone has different needs & ideas. I know in the end you will do whatever is best for you & it will be lovely.

    1. Oh Mary,

      If only! By wall off, do you mean carry a wall up to the 13.5 foot ceiling? That would be prohibitively expensive to do and would look odd, I think. It would overlap the windows and also block the light even further. But, even if only a low wall, there isn’t enough room and a bookcase only makes it worse. There has to be 36″ of clear space the entire way for the stairwell. The only thing allowed to stick out is the handrail. Another thing about a bookcase is it invites children to walk RUN across it.

      My children would be using it as a skateboarding ramp.

      If I could, I’d make the stairwell 30″ wide. That is plenty wide. I have friends whose stairwells are only 27″ wide and that’s a bit tight, but doable. Alas, 36″ wide, it has to be.

  109. I have a comment, but no solution. Sorry, but PVC piping does not do it for its lovely surroundings. I also agree with all the “hole-in-the-floor critics. Gives me the willies to contemplate approaching those stairs. Back to square one?

  110. Only thinking about the “hook” at the end of the railing. Will you forever be catching belts, pockets, bags, as you round the corner to go down the stairs? We have that problem with drawer pulls/handles if you pass too closely as you move by.

  111. Oh Laurel, now that a few readers have pointed out the hole in the floor, I can’t “unsee” it despite the beautiful railing you’ve designed. Any chance you’d consider reconfiguring the jury box to be open shelving or a display cabinet with some soft lighting? I know it takes up a bit more floor space than you’d hoped but could it possibly work? Also, love the recommendation of working “with” the building code people to get what you really want for your space. You (we) might be pleasantly surprised! Thank you for sharing this adventure with us!

    1. Hi Monica,

      Well, there’s always been a hole in the floor, only instead of 61″ x 61″ it will be 36″x 99.” The hole has never bothered me.

      You do see the first steps and it is obvious that it is not a gaping hole, but a staircase. Have you ever been in a place on the second floor where the stairwell is open? Well, it’s no different than that, or even a catwalk with a railing. There’s always a hole on the other side of a railing.

      Still, I am considering the possibility of making it less obvious.

  112. I like the solid wood railing (jury box) version better too! Sorry! I think the black railing doesn’t pick up on anything else in the architecture. Maybe if it were white? But I like the solid wall best. Maybe you could even put shelves or shelves with glass or solid doors on the side facing the room instead of where you now have wainscoting. Then you would have extra storage too.

    We had a similar situation on an upstairs landing where the railing was low around the stair opening and it made me nervous with little kids so we got rid of the railing and put in a wall backed with bookcases.

    If you didn’t want bookcases, a solid wall also gives a place for a bench or some other furniture.

    One teensy additional thought, if there are ever grandchildren and you want a gate at the top, maybe check if you would be able to do it with the wrought iron version.

    1. Bookcases would require a one-foot-deep wall. So, with the stairwell, that is now four feet. The fireplace takes up 2.5 feet. The room is just shy of 15.5 feet. That leaves less than nine feet to put furniture and leave a path to get to the den/2nd bedroom.

  113. I agree. The jury box hides the hole. The iron railing is just as, sorry, distracting as the current one.

  114. Laurel,

    To my eye, the jury box is more pleasing. You’re so talented, maybe you could design a box more classical to your liking?

    Pat A.

  115. Well Laurel, I’ve worked a number of jobs with sticky building code problems. I always asked the inspector to come to the site and see how we could work together. It’s always worked for me.

    Build departments don’t make this stuff up. They’re very busy and bogged down enforcing the rules set out by city council.

    My handrail story: I overlook the lake. Installed a wall of windows. I’m supposed to put a 42” railing. I’m short and sitting in a chair, the railing will be at my eye level. Meaning, the view will be like looking at the lake from inside a playpen.

    Took me 18 months to come up with the solution: if the staircase is the width of the verandah, there’s no need for a railing! Even the inspector thought it was brilliant.

    Basically, re-read the code and bring staff to the site, be sweet and ask “how can we do this?” Once they see the whole issue, they’ll be able to offer ideas or suggest applying for a minor variance.

    1. NFonca,

      As my dear friend Nina would say, “Oh, Laurel, stop making sense!!!” Please remember that this is Laurel, the woman who persuaded her school district to shell out well over 1.5 million dollars to educate her son with autism. Apparently, you do not live in Boston.

      I have been told by numerous highly intelligent, professional, talented, law-abiding MEN, that these cretins DO.NOT.CARE.

      They will NOT come over.

      They will NOT talk it over.

      I have read the code numerous times. Most items in the code make sense, but this is one instance where it does not because this is a self-contained staircase, meant for ONE unit only and is not shared by any of the other five families in the building; not even in an emergency, because like today, I’m not there to let anyone in.

      However, because my place is a duplex, I am required by law to have a dwelling-unit staircase. (Of course, I want one should I decide to walk around with curlers in my hair, etc.) My stairs should not have to follow the same code as the public, common stairwell, because it has no greater occupancy than a single-family home would. In fact, because this is only a 1200-square-foot apartment, the occupancy is far less than most single-family residences and at least 50% less than for two-family residences sharing one staircase.

      My proposed staircase would be fine in either of those situations. But, because this is a five-unit BUILDING, it falls under a different classification. Yes, the code does apply to the COMMON staircase. Which BTW, is only 34″ wide.(code is 36″ wide) However, it’s part of the original structure. It’s when something is changed, that the codes kick in.

      The Mass code is based on the international building code. I say “based,” because in the IBC, there is another page that talks about historical dwellings and the understanding that because of the nature of the building, plus not wanting to comprimise the historical intent of the interior, the law needs to be followed in spirit, if not fully complying due to limitations.

      That clause is missing in the Mass code.

  116. Oh Laurel I feel for you! The people in the building department are complete robots when it comes to responses. I would swear they had a party and dropped acid before writing the codes.
    I like the rail idea even though it’s a different style. Love the Parisian dream home look. Hang in there

  117. I do agree with Paula R. The jury box calms the whole space… it feels like an architectural solution not just decorative. A visible hole in the floor gives me a sense of vertigo/insecurity no matter how elegant the railing whereas the partial wall shields us from it and kind of grants it structural authority to be there. Laurel thank you for letting us follow your project! I devour every post and know it’s going to turn out to be such an elegant and comfortable home.

  118. Okay, I’m going out on a fragile limb here that may break and hurl me to the ground, but… I like the ‘jury box’, mostly because it hides that godawful hole in your floor. I think that no matter what railing you come up with, that hole will always be there, yawning at you. Sorry!

  119. I can’t wait to see what it all ends up looking like —I know it will be beautiful and I applaud you for sticking to your guns about what you want. You only do this kind of work and spend this kind of money once ( hopefully ) so you don’t want any regrets.
    I feel awful for saying this, but it’s not like YOU designed it, so I’m going to go ahead and say it —your current stair situation is hideous. The railings, or what are trying to pass for railings, are just so inelegant. Every time I see them I think they look like someone built it from white PVC pipe from the hardware store. There. I said it. I am awful. Please forgive me.
    Thank you for all the lovely updates, Laurel. It lets us enjoy the excitement of the construction without having to actually suffer the headaches. Well, I will have a few sympathy headaches for you if code enforcement is as terrible as I fear they will be.
    Take care,
    Lisa in Houston ( yes it’s very hot and humid here right now and I am longing for the mountains )

    1. Hi Lisa,

      You are not awful. It is beyond hideous. However, like most things, one doesn’t “see” it after a while. However, people visiting do. After they ooh and ahhh over the windows, you can see a shadow falling over their faces… What kills me is how dangerous the current railing and configuration is. Not only are their massive gaps, it was installed incorrectly. No one under the age of six can come in here. If it were my boys, I’d have to raise the age to 24. LOL

      Sorry about your hellish summer!!!

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